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Proud Preston is how they like to call themselves besides believing they are  superior, but it was Burnley standing proud at the end of last night’s game as the players and manager celebrated with thousands of Clarets in the Shankly at Deepdale after a 1-0 win.

It was a deflected Joey Barton free kick in only the sixth minute of the game that won it for us. It might so easily have been a bigger win but a one goal lead is always somewhat precarious so there was very much an element of relief as well as delight when referee Kevin Friend finally blew his whistle for the last time to signal three more points and take our total to 87 with two games still to play.

pne 900The atmosphere in the Shankly was, other than a few idiots, incredible. It can’t be compared with 1973, and the title clinching point, or the Sherpa Van win 28 years ago at what was then the old Deepdale, but to feel part of this, and I’m somewhere on that picture, really was very special.

Our trip started just before 4:30 and it all fell into place well as four of us arrived at our destination pub. We’d found a good one, the food and drink was excellent, and we were quite calm, apart from one of our group who had been sending texts all day suggesting he was nervous.

My knowledge of Preston having worked in the town (I know it is a city but it wasn’t then) proved invaluable in terms of finding an excellent parking place proving that I can be useful on some occasions and we arrived at the away turnstiles to find quite a subdued atmosphere. “We never win here,” one Claret told me, so I reminded him of the successes in ’73 (I know it was only a draw) and ’88 and, of course, of our last visit in 2011 when Jay Rod and Jack Cork scored in the win.

If it was subdued outside then it was a different story once I’d gone past the sniffer dogs, been searched and got through the turnstiles to find a concourse that was absolutely jammed solid and noisy but I was quickly in my seat just over half way back (and that was far enough) directly behind the goals.

It was same again for Burnley, the eleven that had started against Middlesbrough would be on the pitch again from the start. The only change came on the bench where James Tarkowski returned with Michael Duff getting a well earned rest after his goal celebration sprint three days earlier.

Eventually the teams came out led by that waddling creature. I can’t for the life of me work out quite why I get wound up by some bloke dressed as a duck and waving a flag but for some ridiculous reason. Thankfully I don’t think I saw the damn thing again all night.

I was somewhat concerned that I was far too relaxed for such an occasion. I’d spoken to Alastair Campbell outside about our conversation at Scunthorpe in 2000 when I was a bag of nerves. This calmness is not me, maybe it is just because I’m getting older.

We didn’t have to wait long for the opener. Preston got down the left a couple of times through Adam Reach, the on loan Middlesbrough player but then we won a free kick at the third time of asking after Kevin Friend had turned down two good looking shouts.

Barton took the kick. It looks to me on second viewing as if it might have curled wide but a deflection took it past Chris Kirkland and we had the early lead. What a shame some idiots had to run onto the pitch, some even incredibly jumping on Tom Heaton. What a shame also that some thought it appropriate to try and harm those with breathing difficulties as the blue smoke rose. Thankfully, the vast majority of our supporters hailed the goal as you would want and expect.

pne 900 2Suddenly, any calmness on my part turned to nerves and for the rest of the game I was constantly checking my watch, worrying every time Preston got possession and frightened to death that they might score. I know one Burnley director, not known for his optimism who had thought and probably said: “Have we scored too early?”

We simply went on to totally dominate the first half and goodness knows how the lead wasn’t increased by the time we went in for half time. Andre Gray, Sam Vokes, George Boyd, who was in inspirational form, Dean Marney and Ben Mee might all have scored. Preston had absolutely no answer to us.

There was one move forward though when they got in two magnificent blocks to deny us, first from Scott Arfield and then from Gray.

I thought, given the pressure our players were under, it was magnificent stuff and with a bit of luck and maybe a bit more steadiness we would have had this game won by half time.

That we hadn’t increased the nerves and when Preston pushed forward at the start of the second half, so they increased even more. But fortune certainly favoured the home side when we came storming back to hit the woodwork twice in a matter of minutes.

Gray got clear down the right and from a tight angle, with no other options available, he crashed  a shot against the foot of the post. It rebounded onto Kirkland but they got it away. Boyd then hammered a shot against the bar from some 30-yards.

We certainly had more work to do defensively in the second half and how the framework came into play when needed. Our two full backs, I thought, had been outstanding in the first half attacking down the flanks, now they were carrying out their other duties defensively.

And for all Preston huffed and puffed, they didn’t really create too much and we got to the end of ninety minutes still in front. Up went the board for five, it became seven, and they did get one free kick in a dangerous position that came to nothing.

By the end we looked comfortable but what a relief when Friend signalled the end of the game.

Our manager was out on the pitch applauding the fans very quickly, our fans responded. The players did likewise and were visibly encouraging even more noise from the Shankly. Up went the Birmingham roar again. People there last night will understand  but I can’t really find the words to describe to others just how it felt to be in the middle of it.

I was even offered a little black bag just before I left. “The points are in the bag,” I was told. It was one of those nights, one that you never want to forget.

We’ve achieved nothing yet though, the battle goes on and it’s QPR a week on Monday for the next instalment as we chase this second automatic promotion.


The teams were;

Preston: Chris Kirkland, Calum Woods, Tom Clarke, Bailey Wright, Greg Cunningham, Ben Pearson (Daniel Johnson 10), Paul Gallagher, Alan Browne (Callum Robinson 84), Adam Reach, Joe Garner (Jordan Hugill 74), Jermaine Beckford. Subs not used: Matthew Hudson, Clive Smith, Neil Kilkenny, Paul Huntington.
Yellow Cards: Joe Garner, Bailey Wright, Callum Robinson.

Burnley: Tom Heaton, Matt Lowton, Michael Keane, Ben Mee, Stephen Ward, George Boyd, Dean Marney (David Jones 90+4), Joey Barton, Scott Arfield, Sam Vokes, Andre Gray (Ashley Barnes 79). Subs not used: Paul Robinson, Tendayi Darikwa, James Tarkowski, Matt Taylor, Lloyd Dyer.
Yellow Cards: Dean Marney, Matt Lowton, Andre Gray, Joey Barton, Ben Mee.

Referee: Kevin Friend (Leicestershire).

Attendance: 17,789 (including 5,630 Clarets).

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